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Long Beach Ramps Up Professional Development for Remote Learning

  • California’s Long Beach Unified School District closed schools on March 13 to slow the transmission of the coronavirus (COVID-19) and announced plans to offer home learning opportunities for its students beginning March 23. 

    Chromebooks were distributed to students who needed them, along with hot spots and information on accessing low-cost internet. Home learning materials were provided in paper form to families at sites where free meals were being served.

    Professional development became an important component of the 70,000-student school district’s online learning, and district officials are devoting a great deal of time to helping and supporting its teachers. 

    “We are addressing professional development as a response to both a ‘technical’ challenge (easy to identify and solve)  and an ‘adaptive’ challenge (no known solutions, fluid, require new learning),” wrote Pamela Seki, assistant superintendent of curriculum, instruction and professional development for the Long Beach school system, in an email to the Urban Educator.  

    The technical challenge has to do with teachers’ proficiency and comfort with technology. When the school system announced it would convert to remote learning, the district immediately prioritized a two-week schedule of webinar trainings on G-Suite applications. The district has a protected educational Google domain and communicated the expectation that every teacher establish and maintain a Google Classroom.

    The trainings were attended by more than 1,600 teachers (out of 3,000 teachers in the district), and teachers also completed post-training surveys.

    As a follow-up to the training sessions, a Digital Peer Mentor Program was created asking teachers to volunteer to be digital mentors and offering to pair the volunteers with teachers who would either ask for a mentor or whose administrator would ask on his/her behalf. The district received more than 80 volunteer mentor applications in less than one week. 

    Training was conducted for the potential mentors, and as requests for personalized, one-to-one support come in, mentors are assigned to teachers needing help. Long Beach remote learning

    The adaptive challenge is focused on providing professional development to support teachers’ abilities, knowledge and skills in integrating technology, pedagogy and content for effective online instruction. “This is the critical learning: technology is required but should not be the driver, but rather a tool,” said Seki.  

    The district believes that the instructional routines that a teacher employs must be different in an online learning environment, especially at this time when student engagement and connection are most important. 

    To begin addressing the adaptive challenge, the school system’s curriculum leads held virtual office hours during which teachers could join for support and to ask questions. After one week of drop-in office hours, the format transitioned to the leads hosting teachers skilled in the technology-pedagogy-content integration framework, known as “high-fliers.”  “We want our teachers to see their peers as resources,” said Seki.  Some office hours were also identified by topic so that teachers could join around a specific question or concern. 

    Grading Information and Expectations for Students

    When it comes to online learning, Long Beach Schools has adopted a “do no harm” philosophy. As a result, elementary students will not receive report cards for the second semester, students in grades 6-8 will receive pass/fail final grades and students in grades 9-12 will receive credit/no credit final grades. In addition, a student who was passing at the time of the school closure will be given credit, and a student who was not passing at the semester will be given the option to improve the grade prior to dismissal in June. Students will be responsible for assignments, and teachers are expected to provide regular written feedback to students as part of their distance learning instruction. 

    Within the district’s internal portal, students can access Khan Academy, with whom the district has an agreement that allows the vendor to place its application within the district’s closed domain, as well as to provide digital versions of the core textbooks. 

    As for attendance, teachers are asked to mark in the district’s attendance system every Friday as a way to indicate those students who are accessing the online learning platform. “The goal is not to take attendance but rather to identify who is not logging on so that school staff can reach out to the families to identify needs and barriers,” said Seki.  

    The district recently returned from spring break and transitioned to a more formalized distance learning program. Click here to access Long Beach Unified School District’s District Learning Guidelines. 

    Educating Students With Disabilities

    Paper packets were initially created for students in a moderate to severe or special day classroom placement because their curriculum was not available online. Staff who provide services to students with disabilities were asked to collaborate with classroom teachers in the development of lessons in their Google Classrooms. The district is currently in the process of creating Google Voice accounts for its psychologists and other providers so that they can regularly connect with families. 

    “I anticipate the use of Google Meet for support for students in a small group setting also,” said Seki. “However, we know there is much more to be addressed to support these students.”

    Each of Seki’s curriculum leads (course content and grade level) has created a “Learning Priorities” document with resource links, which identifies the essential content to be taught for the remainder of the school year and delineates what a high-quality instructional program looks like for that course and/or grade level. These documents will be provided to all teachers and administrators as the adjusted core curriculum. Long Beach student

    According to Seki, the biggest challenge in launching an online learning environment in 10 days has been reaching out to the district’s most at-risk students who did not have devices and/or Internet access and may not have a conducive environment for home learning. 

    “We can control the professional development needed, the curriculum development and adaptation,” said Seki. “But in this case, outside our brick and mortar classrooms, we have far less ability to create the supportive environment that leads to student safety and success.”

    In the coming days, the district plans to reach out via U.S. mail to those students who might not have Internet access or whose telephone contact is not functioning to determine needs for device and/or internet access.

    Although no decision has been made yet, Seki is certain the district will continue with a modified distance-learning program for at least a part of the fall semester. ”I anticipate a more robust and formalized attendance and participation accountability, as well as a reconsideration of the credit/no credit grading policy,” she said.

    Ricki Price-Baugh, director of academic achievement for the Council of the Great City Schools, commends the Long Beach school system for its thoughtful transition to online learning, taking the time to build in supportive professional development and establishing high flyers among teacher peers to enhance distance learning capacity throughout the district to engage students now, and in the fall as well. 

    “What the district has done to continue providing instruction to its students while maintaining effective communication with its community during this period of upheaval has been a huge accomplishment,” said Price-Baugh. “It’s really remarkable what they have accomplished in a relatively short amount of time, and their efforts should be commended.”